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Why do #earlyyearsmatter?

The hashtag ‘earlyyearsmatter’ has been popularized globally within early childhood academic and practice-based communities. Within those communities, that hashtag invokes multiple well-established facts around the science of child development, what factors aid child development, what the risks are for children at such a young age, and what far reaching consequences early childhood experiences can have on an individual. But what does it mean to other stakeholders who interact, collaborate, or work on the periphery of the early childhood sector? What are these multiple well-established facts? Why do a child’s early years matter? Early childhood is a complex and detailed subject area, however, for the sake of this blog I will be oversimplifying it into a linear and uncomplicated narrative. One of the most central concepts is that science has linked real life experiences to having an impact on physical brain development. And the human brain is most receptive to development in its earliest years after birth. This receptive nature is also called ‘neuroplasticity’. The second period our brains are most neuroplastic is adolescence. Which is why early years and adolescent years are also called ‘sensitive periods’. Now of course, behaviours, skills, and mindsets can be learned, unlearned, and altered in middle childhood and adulthood; but these sensitive years are really what set the foundation of who we are and what we do, they establish our instincts almost. Essentially, neuroplasticity says that whatever experiences we have in our early years, is what our physical brain will code and label in our body as a blueprint for interaction with the world around us later in life. So, the more positive and supportive our early childhood experiences are, the more likely we are to be resilient to the world. I intentionally use the word ‘likely’ because fortunately or unfortunately, nothing is set in stone. And so, all the stakeholders in a young child’s environment hold a valuable position. And because children usually spend the most time around their parents/caregivers at that age, primary caregivers naturally hold the most potential to impact their child’s life trajectory.

Knowing this, how can parents support their child’s development? Honestly, I could probably write 5 more articles rambling on about different strategies, tips, and tricks. The one thing I would say in this blog, however, is that parents should just be cognizant of the fact that early years do matter. The trope of “they’re young, they’ll forget” is not true at all. Our brain and our body remember what our mind may not. So be patient, be involved, and trust in specialists around you for various domains of child development. Doctors for nutritional and physical development, and teachers for school readiness. Your child will likely pick up their first socio-emotional skills from what they see you do, so model well. #earlyyearsmatter. In upcoming weeks, this blog will discuss parents as a lever for child development in the context of low-income populations in India, the digital age and its ties to early childhood care and education, and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on early childhood development.

About the author: Vatsala M. Sharma (Ed. M, Human Development & Psychology) is a Content & Research Associate at Top Parent. She graduated from Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2020 and has previously worked with organizations like Teach For India.



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